Science 3 min read

Increased Emission of Nitrous Oxide Alarms Scientists



With so much focus on carbon dioxide and methane, it’s easy to forget that there are other greenhouse gases in the world. Yet, the rapid increase in nitrous oxide emissions is cause for worry.

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is an oxide of Nitrogen with the chemical formula N2O. While it’s not nearly as prevalent nor long-lasting as CO2, the gas is a hundred times more potent.

What’s more, N2O can persist in the atmosphere for over a century. As you may have guessed, the gas is a significant contributor to ozone depletion and global warming.

Now, scientists have discovered that we’re emitting more nitrous oxide into the atmosphere than the experts at the United Nations had predicted.

Climate scientists from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), Rona Thompsonsaid:

“Our estimates show that the emission of N2O has increased faster over the last decade than estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emission factor approach.”

Here’s how the researchers made this discovery.

Calculating Nitrous Oxide Emissions

Unlike previous calculations, the researchers did use human emissions data for their estimation. Instead, they considered a “top-down” approach based on dozens of atmospheric measurements from around the world.

The researchers then used the data to predict nitrous oxide dynamics on land and in the ocean between 1998 and 2016.

According to the findings, nitrous oxide emission could escalate quickly in the coming years. This is in contrast to the 2006 IPCC model, which shows a linear relationship between N2O emissions and Nitrogen use.

The new result shows that N2O emissions increased by about 10 percent between 2000 and 2005 and 2010 and 2015. That’s more than twice the rate that previous studies estimated from fertilizer use.

Why There’s an increase in N2O emissions?

According to the authors, our growing reliance on nitrogen fertilizers for agriculture crops is to blame partly. Other factors include burning fossil fuels and biomass, as well as the production of nitric acid.

Also, the researchers theorized that plants could no longer fix nitrogen effectively. And this causes the N2O emissions to increase exponentially.

In a statement to the press, an agricultural researcher who was not involved in the study, Richard Eckard said:

“When you exceed the [plant] system’s capacity to use that nitrogen fertilizer, the efficiency goes out the window, and the nitrogen can leak out of the cycle.”

How can we reduce emissions?

The researchers recommend reducing the amount of soil tillage and waterlogging on farmlands. After all, these safe practices are unlikely to harm agricultural output when done correctly.

Read More: GOSAT and Other Greenhouse Gas Observing Satellites

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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